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Veteran astronaut leaves long delayed Boeing commercial crew test flight

Christopher Ferguson, commander of the last space shuttle flight and now a Boeing executive, has resigned as commander of the company’s first piloted test flight troubled CST-100 Starliner commercial spacecraft, he and Boeing announced Wednesday. He was replaced by NASA astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore.

“I’m embarking on a new mission, one that keeps my feet planted here on Earth and prioritizes my most important crew – my family,” Ferguson tweeted. “I will still work hard with the #Starliner team and the @NASA_Astronauts of our crew.”

In a video attached to the tweet, Ferguson, 59 and a father of three, called his decision to resign “difficult and personal.”

“I am deeply committed to human spaceflight, I am dedicated to the Starliner program and I am passionate about the team that built it,” he said. “But this year is very important for my family. I have made several commitments that I simply cannot risk losing.

“I’m not going anywhere, I’m just not going to space next year. The Boeing team has been very understanding, the crew is doing wonderfully and thanks for your understanding too.”

Former shuttle commander Chris Ferguson, seen in the hatch of a commercial crewed model ship, took off from the first Boeing-piloted Starliner test flight, now scheduled to launch next summer, to spend more time with his family.


It was the mission’s second crew change since Ferguson and astronauts Eric Boe and Nicole Mann were assigned to the flight in August 2018. Boe was withdrawn by the crew the following January due to an unspecified medical problem. He was replaced by astronaut Michael Fincke.

Although no longer in flight, Ferguson, a former Navy F-14 aircraft carrier pilot, TOPGUN graduate and test pilot instructor, will continue to play an important role in the development of the Starliner, serving as Boeing’s Integration and Operations Mission Director. and crew systems.

“My personal thanks to Chris for his leadership,” said Leanne Caret, president and CEO of Boeing Defense, Space & Security. “He puts his family first, which Boeing fully supports. We are fortunate that he will continue to take an active role in the Starliner program and bring his deep and extensive experience in human spaceflight to the program.”

Ferguson’s departure from crew comes amid riots at Boeing in the wake of a plagued problem unmanned test flight of the Starliner capsule last December, leaving Mann, a Marine Corps F / A-18 fighter pilot and novice astronaut, as the only original crew member on the Crew Flight Test, or CFT, mission.

After the December flight, Boeing executives decided to launch a repeat the mission later this year or early next to check the performance of required software updates and other changes. This prompted the first piloted Starliner flight until summer 2021, a full two years after planned, when the initial crew assignments were announced.

NASA astronaut Mike Fincke, left, former shuttle commander and Boeing executive Chris Ferguson, center, and NASA’s Nicole Mann pose for an official crew portrait. All three were assigned to the first piloted test flight of Boeing’s Starliner capsule, but Ferguson resigned on Wednesday. He was replaced by astronaut Barry Wilmore.


SpaceX, meanwhile, is prepare for launch four astronauts at the International Space Station on 31 October following a successfully piloted test flight of its Crew Dragon capsule early this summer by astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, Ferguson’s co-pilot in the final shuttle mission.

Ferguson retired from NASA after his third and final shuttle flight in July 2011 and went to work for Boeing, helping the company develop the commercial crewed ship Starliner. In August 2018, to no one’s surprise, he was appointed to the first piloted mission of the Starliner.

“I have full confidence in the Starliner vehicle, the men and women who build and test it, and the NASA astronauts who will eventually fly it,” Ferguson said in a Boeing statement.

“The Boeing team has taken all the lessons from our first unmanned Orbital Flight Test to heart and is making the Starliner one of the safest new manned spacecraft ever deployed. I’ll be here on the ground supporting Butch, Nicole and Mike as they demonstrate it. “

Wilmore thanked Ferguson for his “exceptional leadership and insight into this very complex and capable vehicle”.

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